Senses of Purpose, by Ben Jeapes

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My stepson works in a pub. An obviously underage Asian customer came in, with obviously someone else’s ID. My stepson quite rightly said, “I don’t recognise you from your ID, so I’m not serving you.”

The customer was furious. “You’re racist! I’m calling the police!”

“Please do ...” was the answer.

I love stories like that from him - not for poking fun at slightly dim customers who can’t see the downside of shopping themselves for underage drinking, but because they show a side of him we rarely see at home. Somehow we seem to have raised an intelligent, conscientious professional who is very good at, and enjoys, his job.

Meanwhile, I’m currently working on the next issue of a classic car club magazine that I edit as a side job. I knew nothing about classic cars when I started, and everything I do know I’ve learnt since from the magazine, but as well as being a pocket money earner I enjoy it for another reason. I enjoy reading about people exercising their passion. And like my stepson, they are very good at it.

People have hidden sides. They have quirks or annoying habits. They have knowledge and experience. No one has lived on this earth in complete isolation of any kind of formative influence until it’s their turn to interact with you. And it can emerge in amazing places.

I can still remember my amazement when, at the age of 30, I learned that one of my grandmother’s neighbours had not only flown Spitfires during the war, but had been (and could prove he had been) shot down by Luftwaffe ace Adolf Galland. “I took off at three o’clock; by three fifteen I was back on the ground,” is how he put it. It wasn’t that he was reticent about his experiences; in fact he was very happy to talk about them, if anyone ever asked. Which I never had until then.

Everyone’s most basic level of knowledge is knowing what it is to be alive: sensory input going 24/7, human relationships, knowing what we like and what we don’t. A character on a page has to give the impression of a similar level of existence. If you can’t believe they existed before you opened the book, or that they will go on existing after you close it, then the author isn’t doing it right.

And there’s a further challenge for us as Christian authors. Jeremiah 29:11 famously reads: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I read that a slightly more accurate way of saying this would be: “I have a purpose for you.”

Do you have a purpose for your characters? Are they there for any reason other than to further the plot: to be the handy clue merchant that your detective seeks out in a bar or to be the handsome guy who distracts your heroine from her true love? If they were real then God would certainly think so - and so it’s up to us to convey that in fiction as well.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.


  1. You are right to find people surprising - I have a friend who is well into her 90s, but it wasn't till a few years ago that I discovered this smart, stalwart and apparently traditional lady drove a crane during the war and smuggled black market goods in her bra!

  2. Our characters should be surprising and multi-dimensional, as we are. Hard to do without blood, sweat and tears. Which is what it takes for us with them, and for God with us. Great post.

  3. You've helped me to think more deeply about my characters - I like to think of them existing before they stepped into my novel and that they carry on long after it finishes.


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